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Betacam

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Betacam is a family of half-inch professional videotape products developed by Sony from 1982 onwards. In casual use, "Betacam" singly is often used to refer to a Betacam camcorder, a Betacam tape, or a Betacam video recorder.


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Betacam history

Betacam, launched in 1982, was the first professional video format in the Sony Beta range. In stark contrast to the failure of Betamax in the home video market, Betacam was a great success. In the professional market, quality and reliability are paramount — unlike the consumer market which is more concerned with recording times and availability of movies. Betacam was a high-quality format and attracted a lot of attention amongst professionals.

Betacam was a relatively short-lived format, replaced by the next generation Betacam SP.

Betacam format description

Sony Betacam BVW-25 portable Player/Recorder
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Sony Betacam BVW-25 portable Player/Recorder

The original Betacam format launched in 1982. It is an analog component format, storing the luminance (Y) in one track and the chrominance (R-Y, B-Y) on another, performing Chroma Time Division Multiplex, or CTDM. This splitting of channels provides a crisp, true broadcast quality product with 300 lines of horizontal resolution.

Unlike, it's predecessors such as the U-matic format, the Betacam format records all three signals independently so that there is minimal signal loss during the record/playback process. It is able to do this by using a process known as Compressed Time Division Multiplex (CTDM).

The only difference between Betamax and Betacam is that the former records in composite format (much like VHS, U-matic, or 1" type C videotape), while the latter records in component format and at a much higher linear tape speed, resulting in much-higher video and audio quality over Betamax. A typical L-750 length Beta cassette will yield about 3 hours of recording time on a Betamax VCR at its BII speed, while it would only yield 30 minutes on a Betacam deck or camcorder.

Betacam tape

The early form of Betacam tapes are interchangeable with Betamax, though the recordings are not.
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The early form of Betacam tapes are interchangeable with Betamax, though the recordings are not.

Betacam tapes came in two sizes: S (small) and L (large). Typically Betacam field units (camcorders or dockable decks) handle only S cassettes with shorter lengths of tape. Video tape recorder (VTRs) can play both S and L tapes.

  • S-size: Ninety minute cassettes measures 5.5 by 10 inches (14 by 25 cm).
  • L-size: 30 minutes and less cassettes measures 4 by 6 inches (10 by 16 cm).

The original Betacam cassettes were basically the same as Betamax. The difference was that Betacam used component video rather than composite, and recorded at a much higher tape speed. Betamax and Betacam tapes were interchangeable (unlike the later Betacam SP tapes).

The Betacam format records on cassettes loaded with oxide-formulated tape, which are exactly the same as its consumer-market oriented predecessor Betamax, which was introduced 7 years earlier by Sony in 1975. A blank Betamax-branded tape can be used on a Betacam deck, and a Betacam-branded tape can be used in a Betamax deck.

Betacam devices

Sony Betacam BVW-10 Player
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Sony Betacam BVW-10 Player

Betacam was initially introduced as a camera line along with a video cassette player. The first cameras were the BVP-3, which utilized 3 saticon tubes, and the BVP1, which used a single tri-stripe Trinicon tube. Both these cameras could be operated standalone, or with their docking companion VTR, the BVW1 (quickly superseded by the BVW1A). Tapes could not be played back in camera except in black and white for viewing in the camera's viewfinder only. Color playback required the studio source deck at first, the BVW10, which could not record, only play back. It was primarily designed as a feeder deck for A/B roll edit systems, usually for editing to a 1" Type C or 3/4" Umatic cassette edit master tape. There was also the BVW20 field playback deck, which was a portable unit with dc power and a handle, that was used to verify color playback of tapes in the field. Unlike the BVW10, it did not have a built in Time Base Corrector, or TBC.

With the popular success of the Betacam system as a news acquisition format, the line was soon extended to include the BVW15 studio player, and the BVW40 Studio Edit Recorder. The BVW15 added Dynamic Tracking which enabled clear still frame and jog playback, something the BVW10 could not deliver. The BVW40 enabled for the first time editing to a Betacam master, and if setup and wired correctly, true component video editing. It was also possible to do machine to machine editing between a BVW10/15 and BVW40 without an edit controller--a single serial cable between the units was all that was required to control the player from the recorder in performing simple assemble and insert editing. Additionally there were two field models introduced, the field recorder BVW25, and the BVW21 play only portable field deck.

At its introduction, many insisted that Betacam remained inferior to the bulkier 1" Type C and B recording, the standard broadcast production format of the late 70s to mid 80s. Additionally, the maximum record time for both the cameras and studio recorders was only half an hour, a severe limitation in television production.

See also

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